Try Googling ‘best new British bands”. I guarantee you that at least 80% of the articles you find will mention London-based septet Black Country, New Road. I discovered them last year through a friend of mine who pretty much said the same thing. Last year, they released one of my favourite albums of the year – For the first time, a loud, disorienting, high-tempo post-punk album. It was a raw, relentless body of work that saw them focus on creating sharp grooves, meandering melodies and infectious vocals from Isaac Wood, who sadly left the group a few days before the release of their new album due to personal reasons. It really was an incredibly poignant body of work that I still constantly revisit to this day. 364 days after the release of their debut, the band have blessed us with their new, anthemic sophomore album titled Ants From Up There. 10 tracks and 59 minutes in length, this is their most complete and ambitious project to date, with orchestral, jazz-influenced melodies that are beautiful, emotive and wonderfully composed. While Isaac will be missed as part of the group, his contribution is central to the emotion and intensity of this album.
The first noticeable feeling I have listening to this album is that it sounds more grandiose, lavish and uplifting than their debut. The melodies are more colourful and uplifing almost, bringing more anthemic sounds to their repertoire while maintaining their groove and rhythm-heavy guitar and bass riffs that I have come to love from them. After the playful and orchestral “Intro”, the album comes to life on the cartoonish, jittery “Chaos Space Marine”. The piano and drum-heavy track perfectly captures their animated and colourful sound, as their playful guitar riffs are just so fun to listen to throughout. The absurdist lyrics on this track, and throughout the album also add to the charm and aura of their artistry. “Concorde”, one of the lead singles, is a soft and beautiful track, with guitar leads, synths and horn sections adding to the beautiful, mellow and reflective melody. What I love about this group is their ability to be explorative in the best possible way. The triumphant and riveting finale of “Concorde”, the way “Bread Song” grows from incredible guitar-arpeggios to a densely arranged, orchestral and utterly spellbinding piece of music, the inspiring, feel-good and drum-heavy “Good Will Hunting” – all these tracks are just so delicately and beautifully composed. “Haldern” is playful and inspiring, playing like a soundtrack to a coming-of-age film, while the piano melodies of “Mark’s Theme” are so moving as well. The album ends with three 7+ minute tracks, all of them basically outdoing each other musically. The warmness of “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade” is just special, and sounds nothing like the gruelling energy of the music on their first album. It’s anthemic, uplifting and joyful. The orchestral beauty of “Snow Globes” is one of their most musically rich and aesthetic tracks to date, with guitar melodies and orchestral strings adding to the emotive tone of the track, that is quickly juxtaposed by one of the most intense drum solos I’ve heard in a while. Their music here sounds like they are experimenting and improvising while they are performing live, which is one of my favourite things to experience in music in general. The heart and emotion of this track are just extraordinary. “Basketball Shoes”, the 12-minute closer is a masterpiece. The beat arrangements, the grooves and overall energy of this track are just so enthralling, as the energy builds and builds throughout. It’s almost an album within itself, an experience that complements the striking beauty of the album.
Their music is so cohesive throughout, with each track picking up where the last one started. Ants From Up There is a grandiose, powerful musical statement that sees Black Country, New Road reach new musical heights. Listening to the closing 3 minutes of “Basketball Shoes” as I conclude this review, I’m just so taken aback by their ability to channel their soul, playfulness and utter power into their music, reaching a moment of pure blissful energy that transcends everything. It’s almost emotionally draining, as each hit of the drum, each squeal from Isaac, each guitar lead brings a new lease of life, a new heartbeat that just hits all the right notes in the best possible way. It may just be one of the most powerful, anthemic post-rock albums to come out in years, so this album is a MUST-LISTEN.